Blockbuster global firm Latham is intent on giving a scene-stealing performance in London.
Hollywood you rather
It was 1934 in Los Angeles. Against the glitzy backdrop of the golden age of cinema a firm named Latham & Watkins came to be. Ever since that fateful day – much like a stop-motion King Kong on a scale model Empire State Building – the firm has climbed higher, and higher, and higher, and taken a tight hold of the global legal market. The firm now stands 30 worldwide offices strong, bristling with over 2,600 lawyers. For a few years it was the largest firm in the world by revenue, but its big hairy US cousin Kirkland & Ellis relieved it of that title in 2017. Still, what's a hundred million dollars here or there? The firm grew by 8.5% in 2017, breaking $3 billion in revenue, and the London trainees we spoke to were rightly confident about “Latham’s dominant market position, its huge clientele and the direction it's going in.”
In London too, among its American counterparts, the firm is a little on the larger side. As of January 2018 Latham had the third highest number of lawyers of any US firm in London (behind Baker McKenzie and White & Case). The team in the capital is currently best seen as a financial and transactional beast. Chambers UK flings some excellent rankings at the firm for banking and finance, private equity and capital markets (meaning it competes directly with the magic circle natives in those areas), while the firm also does extremely well in IT, environment, restructuring, energy and projects. The firm made numerous lateral partner hires recently, adding two litigation, one financial regulatory and two restructuring partners.
“The expectations are high and the hours won't be cushy.”
The 25 spots (roughly) open to budding trainees are filled by those “who are able to stand up to the work that is expected of them. The expectations are high and the hours won't be cushy.” Put in a more positive light, “Latham becomes your home.” As their new-found home, it seemed just about right to our sources: “The intake isn’t too big, but also isn’t really small. The firm has great rankings and great work, but you’re not lost being a number.” With this in mind, trainees are expected to make themselves heard: “It's on you to create your career path. The firm will help you develop your own experience – but they won't just say 'here's what to do.' It's more: 'tell us what you want to do and we'll help you get there.'”
New recruits are asked for their first seat preferences before they join. At every subsequent seat change, trainees submit a form with at least three preferences and have a conversation with grad recruitment about them. Everyone's required to complete a stint in corporate and a finance seat. A contentious seat is also an option, though trainees can usually opt to take a short litigation course if disputes aren't really their thing. While most sources felt the seat allocation process worked well for them, several did note that “it’s a bit of an opaque process – it’s not entirely clear why you get the seats you do!”
And the Oscar goes to...
Latham's corporate department is split into a number of smaller teams: M&A/private equity, capital markets, technology transactions (TTG) and private funds. The M&A team works with household names such as Netflix, Aviva, Ernst & Young, Expedia, and Nissan, and deals are frequently both massive and international. The team recently worked with communications company Telenor on its €2.8 billion sale of its Central and Eastern European assets to the industrial equipment company PPF Group. The group also represented the manufacturer Israel Chemicals on the $1 billion carve-out sale of its fire safety and oil additives business to investment firm SK Capital. Trainee tasks in this seat tended towards the more basic end of the scale. “Working on the due diligence process is the most typical trainee task,” we heard, and trainees would run deal checklists and carry out other “admin work: compiling originals and data room indexes.” Trainees' role in the process also included drafting due diligence reports, and some lucky trainees had done drafting on board resolutions and shareholder agreements. Trainees weren’t irked by generally “not being the main person holding the pen,” accepting it as just part of “working on multibillion-dollar business.”
The work in TTG is split between corporate support, helping tech start-ups with the likes of privacy policies, IP protection and corporate governance, and outsourcing deals. The group recently assisted Blackstone and CVC Capital on their £2.96 billion acquisition of online payments company Paysafe Group. Specifically the firm advised on the payments, IP, fintech, contracts diligence and financial regulatory aspects of the deal. Due to the fact that the seat provides so much variety, it’s a popular qualification route, as well as a “particularly competitive” seat option to get. Drafting is sometimes hard to come by, but because the team was “super busy” with the EU's General Data Protection Regulation, trainees had “done first drafts of website policy updates to make sure they were GDPR compliant – it’s complex but we get templates to help us.” Other work on offer included research and doc review.
The capital markets group gives trainees work that is “a lot more technical than general corporate work.” The team handles IPOs and AIM listings amid a mix of debt, equity and high-yield transactions. This recently included advising 20 banks (including HSBC, Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America) on telecommunication company Wind Tre’s refinancing. That included the issue of €7.3 billion in notes. Trainees here work on verification, altering documents for investors, drafting client and shareholder communications and “a lot of very technical research.”
Release the pounds
With over 60 associates, 12 partners and one dog (“a little ball of fluff that lightens up the day a bit!”), banking is a huge presence at Latham's London office. Its lawyers advise clients on bank, leveraged and acquisition financings, as well as refinancings and alternative sources of finance. Transactions regularly run into the billions, such as Credit Suisse’s €14.7 billion financing of Italian transport company Atlantia’s acquisition of Albertis Infrastructure. The department counts the biggest names in international finance among its clients, regularly advising the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Morgan Stanley. Trainees frequently work with a range of people in the team rather than just their supervisor and take on a project management role. This involves overseeing the conditions precedent checklist, liaising with local counsel and generally “making sure the documents are flowing to the right places.” More complex tasks such as drafting legal opinions and debentures can find their way to juniors – “if you can manage to wrap your head around what’s going on!”
Latham's litigation department is frequently involved in multi-jurisdictional work. Its clients include global private equity houses, corporates and many, many banks. Latham represents Dutch bank ABN Amro in proceedings related to the Madoff investment scandal, and the litigation team also advised Shell against two group actions claims brought by Nigerian residents over alleged environmental pollution from onshore pipelines. The international elements “add complexity” for trainees, and they described the seat as being “not as fast-paced as banking in a sense. They are bigger tasks stretched over longer periods of time.” It can, therefore, feel “very academic,” but trainees also acknowledged that access to more complex tasks “isn’t extensive.” Typically, trainees here can expect to research recent case law and liaise with opposing counsel, but they also create bundles and complete more “admin-heavy tasks like renaming files and uploading them to the cloud.”
“Getting the Singapore and LA seats can be quite competitive – the weather is an amazing pay-off though!”
There are two or three client secondments available each rotation, usually to private equity houses. And trainees have recently done overseas seats in Washington DC, Los Angeles, Madrid, Moscow, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. The more popular overseas seats tend to be the ones in warmer climes: “Getting the Singapore and LA seats can be quite competitive – the weather is an amazing pay-off though!” Overall, there are enough secondment opportunities that if you want to dash off abroad “there are only ever a few people who are disappointed.” Those who had gone overseas felt future trainees should be aware that “on secondment, you’re going to be super busy, but you’re going to come back a much better lawyer for it!”
Manicure as panic-cure
Training at Latham is “less structured than at magic circle firms.” Instead interviewees highlighted “ongoing training you get during a seat,” describing partners who are “invested in your learning and willing to take the time out to explain things even when they’re so busy.” New starters get an associate mentor: “You’re encouraged to have monthly catch-ups. Some people just grab a coffee together, but some go and get their nails done or see a show.”
A ten or 12-hour day is usual at Latham. Midnight finishes are “definitely not one-offs,” and a new-joiner should expect to experience what trainees labelled “exceptional” 4am finishes. Exceptions to this rule come in the tax and TTG groups, where finishing between 7pm and 8pm is more consistent. Despite this, trainees were eerily fine with what one called “horrendous 80-plus hour weeks.” They told us: “Being stretched well beyond what’s manageable is something everybody just acknowledges.” Trainees also acknowledged that their magic circle counterparts are working just as hard, but “Latham pays a lot more money for the same job!”
“We are determined to get everything absolutely right.”
The high salaries aren’t the only thing linking the firm to its LA roots – trainees also noted the firm’s “Californian vibe.” Considering the aforementioned long hours, we needed to find out just what they meant by this. Trainees reported plenty of strong relationships within the firm, judging that “people are generally chilled here and there’s a relaxed ambience at the firm.” Of course, this only goes so far: “There’s no tolerance for slacking or lowering expectations. Latham prides itself on delivering perfect quality work – we are determined to get everything absolutely right.” Meanwhile another fulfilling Americanism puts pro bono work on the menu “from the very beginning.” Past pro bono opportunities have included assisting on real estate work for charities, helping out at legal clinics and working with Equality Now to create laws protecting women in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
But lawyers still manage to find time to let off some steam. There are regular drinks, sports events and trips abroad. As well as subsidised ski trips, departments in the firm go on retreats; this year the corporate team went to Milan and the TTG team went to Chicago. “It was two days of lectures and speeches about recent developments,” – but there was also “a rooftop pool, drinking and nice food. The phrase ‘play hard’ definitely comes to mind!” On qualification, NQs are also taken out to the US to meet their American junior associate counterparts for Latham Academy.
Trainees find out if they are staying on at the firm by mid-May. Second years submit two preferences; these are passed on to the relevant departmental heads, who then look over every applicant's reviews before making a decision. The firm's excellent past retention rate should keep trainees sprightly, and one expressed their delight “that the firm doesn't do interviews.” In 2018, 23 of 24 qualifiers sailed through to stay on. Trainees' final piece of advice? “It's important that you do an open day or a vac scheme to really understand the culture.”
The firm has several global affinity groups including ones for Asian and Middle Eastern lawyers, black lawyers, Hispanic/Latin American lawyers, LGBTQ lawyers, parents and women.
How to get a Latham & Watkins training contract
Training contract deadline (2020): 14 July 2019 (opens 1 April 2019)
Applications, interviews and assessments
Bagging a training contract at Latham requires a minimum 2:1 degree and at least AAB at A level. All candidates – whether they're applying for a vacation scheme or directly for a training contract – complete an online application form that asks about work and academic history, as well as their motivation for wanting to join the firm. “We're looking for well-structured, concise answers on the application form – answers that show a clear understanding of – and drive for – Latham's training contract,” a member of the graduate recruitment team told us. The firm also prefers applicants with some relevant work experience, whether legal or commercial.
The firm does not recruit on a rolling basis and will be in touch with all applicants once deadlines have passed.
Applicants whose online applications stand out are invited to complete a video interview, consisting of around five questions. Those who are successful at this second stage are invited to an assessment centre, which is the last stage of the process and includes an interview. The interview focuses on an applicant's academic history, work experience, why they want to work for Latham, and their motivations for looking to work in the city as a commercial lawyer.
Latham strongly encourages trainee hopefuls to apply to its vacation scheme; on average approximately 70% of its trainees have completed a vacation scheme with the firm. The firm runs its two-week schemes in spring and summer and accepts around 20 successful candidates onto each. The schemes are open to law and non-law graduates and undergraduates.
Candidates who bag a place on one of the vacation schemes spend time in two practice areas. The firm does its best to accommodate preferences for each of these stints. Scheme attendees sit in an office with their supervisor: “It's just like a miniature version of the training contract itself in this regard,” a trainee reflected. In addition to helping their supervisor with their day to day work, attendees will be given a research task tied to each practice area they sample. They're also asked to complete a group exercise during their time on their scheme. Throughout, “your supervisors will help ensure you get a good insight into Life at Latham, and you’re encouraged to be proactive and reach out to people to learn as much as you can about the firm and it’s work, as well as trainee life” explained a member of the graduate recruitment team. “The firm is interested in seeing how you can work alongside others and have the potential to contribute to the firm in the future.” The vacation schemes also give attendees a chance to attend practice area talks and social and networking events.
Towards the end of each of the schemes, attendees are invited to an interview for the training contract. Feedback from the interview – as well as from assigned work and general performance during the vacation schemes – is taken into account when training contract decisions are made.
Latham & Watkins
- Partners 79
- Associates 211
- Total trainees 48
- UK offices London
- Overseas offices Barcelona, Beijing, Boston, Brussels, Century City, Chicago, Dubai, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hong Kong, Houston, London, Los Angeles, Madrid, Milan, Moscow, Munich, New York, Orange County, Paris, Riyadh, San Diego, San Francisco, Seoul, Shanghai, Silicon Valley, Singapore, Tokyo, Washington DC
- Graduate recuiter: Natasha Fox, [email protected]
- Training partner: Deborah Kirk
- Application criteria
- Training contracts pa: 24
- Minimum required degree grade: 2:1
- Minimum UCAS points or A levels: AAB
- Vacation scheme places pa: 40
- Dates and deadlines
- Training contract applications open: April 2019
- Training contract deadline, 2021 start: July 2019
- Vacation scheme applications open: October 2018
- Vacation scheme 2019 deadline: 6 January 2019
- Open day deadline: See website for more details
- Salary and benefits
- First-year salary: £46,000
- Second-year salary: £50,000
- LPC fees: Yes
- GDL fees: Yes
- Maintenance grant pa:£8,000 per course
- International and regional
- Offices with training contracts: Singapore, Hong Kong
- Overseas seats: Decided on business need, previous seats have included Hong Kong, Dubai, Singapore, LA, Boston, New York, Madrid, Brussels, Paris etc
- Client secondments: Yes, based on business needs
Described as a ‘Game Changer’ by the Financial Times’ 2015 report of the most innovative European law firms, Latham’s award-winning London office is home to over 350 lawyers and recognised for its work advising some of the world’s leading corporates, financial institutions and private equity firms on their most significant transactions, disputes, and regulatory matters.
Main areas of work
Latham’s highly regarded London disputes practice boasts renowned litigators who focus on complex cross-border disputes.
Between 2000 and 2017, Latham provided approximately 3.2 million pro bono hours in free legal services to underserved individuals and families and the nonprofit sector valued at approximately $1.5 billion.
In addition to training in each seat, trainees also benefit from a core three week induction. After induction trainees complete four, six-month seats. Two of these will be in corporate and finance. Trainees also have the opportunity to apply for a secondment in either their third or fourth seat.
The firm recruits trainees with a view to retaining them upon qualification and average retention over the last five years has been 95%.
Open days and first-year opportunities
- Penultimate year law students, all final year students and graduates: November/December 2018
- First and second year students: February/March 2019
University law careers fairs 2018
This Firm's Rankings in
UK Guide, 2018
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